NewCo, the latest venture from Federated Media co-founder John Battelle and Brian Monahan that focuses on creating city-based “festivals” as a new approach to more standard startup and tech confabs, has raised its first round of funding, a seed round of $1.7 million. The money will take it from being a “passion project” — Battelle’s description of NewCo when it first launched in 2012 as OpenCo — into a more concerted effort with more staff and an ambitious calendar of events and future media projects with the aim of fostering companies with new ideas that encourage change.
Cities on the agenda for the first half of this year include New York and Austin in May and Silicon Valley, Amsterdam, and Istanbul in June.
Investors in the seed round include Evan Williams’ Obvious Ventures, True Ventures, Bloomberg Beta, Transmedia Capital, Freestyle Capital, Foundry Fund, and Dave Morin’s Slow Ventures, as well as angels Chris Albinson, Andrew Anker, Bart Knaggs, Michael Lazerow, Dave Morgan, Jordan Shlain, Owen Van Natta, and Michael Winnick.
That list of backers, in a sense, speaks to how investors remain very interested in Battelle and what he is up to. But it is also perhaps indicative of a more collective dissatisfaction with how new companies and new ideas are presented to potential customers, investors, business partners and the world at large today.
So what is idea behind NewCo? If you haven’t been to one of its festival-events before, the basic premise is that they are based around using the target city as the event ‘venue’. Then participating companies — last year’s NYC event had a list of dozens of companies that included Tumblr and Foursquare but also Evoke Neurosciences and canine-focused startup Bark & Co. — plan events in their actual offices.
What this means is that, instead of being stuck in one single place, attendees get out and about as a way of taking in the larger “festival.” There is also some curation involved in helping people choose what to go see.
This is not unlike the format that many other city-wide festivals take. For example, Internet Week also effectively colocates individual events across a number of venues, sometimes inside the offices that are the subject of the very event. In London, there are beer and food festivals that do away with the idea of a central venue and bring people directly to bars, pubs and restaurants to sample new things.
If NewCo borrows from the idea of city-wide festivals for its basic premise, it also seems to be taking some inspiration from the TED network of events, too. The focus here is on ‘change’ — which might mean a bigger social movement or simply something revolutionary for a particular industry.
“It can be a huge change – Hampton Creek Foods and Impossible Foods are trying to wean the world off animal protein. Or it can be a small one – many adtech firms are trying to make automated buying of advertising inventory more efficient and cost effective for all involved. What matters is that the change is positive – if the company succeeds, the world gets better somehow,” Battelle writes in a blog post about the new cash injection.
In another TED borrowing, it sounds like there will also be other media coming out of NewCo, possibly videos available from talks in the future, for example. “Initial media products will roll out this year, but we are focusing on festival platform, especially suppporting tech this year,” Battelle tells me. “That’s the foundation for other products down the line. We’ll measure this year by progress and growth in our core festival product, and foundations laid for media and service products via our tech platform.”
Battelle has been through some of the highest highs and lower lows of the tech industry in the last several years, including launching the Industry Standard magazine in the first dot-com boom; penning a best-selling book on Google and search; and founding, then leaving, and then returning again to the ad network Federated Media. FM has now been split into two, with one part sold off to LIN Media and Battelle continuing on as executive chairman of the remaining part, now called Sovrn Media.
“This seed funding will allow us to expand our staff, build a truly first-class technology platform, create new products in media and beyond, and lean into executing NewCo’s mission: ‘To identify, celebrate, and connect the engines of positive change in our society,'” Battelle writes.